Where will it end?
Each month this fall has brought more attempts to kill the careers of anyone who speaks negatively about homosexuality. Novelist Orson Scott Card. Football analyst Craig James. Now Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. Boycotts. Firing. “Indefinite hiatus.”
It’s strange in one sense that the cultural left is blacklisting and attempting to purge those who think and speak differently. Many high school students learn only one thing about politics in the 1950s: “McCarthyism” and “blacklisting” were wrong. But here we go again.
Witness, a fine 1985 movie, has a climactic scene (warning: the linked video contains profanity) in which corrupt police chief Paul Schaeffer has his gun trained on a detective played by Harrison Ford, who has been hiding out in an Amish community to protect a little boy. But that boy rings a large bell and members of the community gather. Ford’s character yells at the corrupt police chief, “What are you going to do, Paul? Going to kill me?” He pulls over an old man: “Going to shoot him?” He pulls over the boy: “Going to shoot him? Is that’s what you’re going to do, Paul? Him? The woman? Me. It’s over. Enough. Enough.”
In the movie, it’s over. Enough is enough. In the debate about freedom of speech concerning homosexuality, though, it seems that we’ve just begun. Fox Sports executives are scheduled to give depositions next month about why they fired Craig James. (James responded by email to my request for his perspective on Robertson: “Similar to my situation with Fox Sports, A&E is discriminating against Phil Robertson because of his religious convictions. I would encourage Phil to join me in fighting this religious discrimination, not only for ourselves, but for every person of faith who faces this kind of daily challenge to their faith at work.”)
Robertson’s “indefinite hiatus” sounds like an A&E network attempt not to make a decision until it sees which side registers the most outrage. Defenders and opponents of homosexuality are mobilizing online, and a Facebook “Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson Is Put Back on Duck Dynasty” page has more than 1 million “likes” tonight.
A website featuring a “Petition to the A&E Network Demanding the Immediate Reinstatement of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson” laid out a pro-Robertson argument against A&E’s “intolerant, discriminatory, and punitive treatment” of Robertson for making comments that “are simply reflective of a biblical view of sexuality, marriage, and family. … Many members of the LGBT community may not agree with this view, but the notion that a free-thinking American should be discriminated against simply for expressing a perspective that is in conflict with another is patently un-American and flies in the face of true tolerance and civility.”
The gay lobby shot back: GLAAD said Robertson’s “decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”
The lawyers have jumped in. (That’s inevitable these days.) Alliance Defending Freedom’s Doug Napier emailed, “A&E, as a media outlet, should understand better than most the free marketplace of ideas. The self-appointed speech police rallying behind A&E don’t believe in the free marketplace of ideas and have no tolerance for any beliefs other than their own.”
Booksellers also have to make judgments. Publishers Weekly quoted Simon & Schuster’s Jonathan Merkh saying of Robertson, “We do not condone his recent remarks.” The publisher, though, does not plan to kill Robertson’s book, Happy, Happy, Happy: That’s what sales of 600,000 copies will do, but woe to those that sell only 6,000.
The Robertson family issued an official statement tonight, saying, “We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.”
Where does it end? Some say vocal opposition to homosexuality should be banned because it’s akin to racism. That ignores the differences, though: The most important one for Christians is the Bible’s colorblindness, very different from its clear opposition to homosexual conduct. (Robertson got in trouble for paraphrasing Chapter 6 of the apostle Paul’s clear teaching to the Corinthians. Interestingly, he hasn’t been criticized much for implying in his GQ interview that blacks didn’t suffer much under segregation when he was young—but that’s another story.)
Where does it end? Can’t we make distinctions anymore between someone who wants to beat up homosexuals and someone who (1) affirms what the Bible says, (2) recognizes that gays are also made after God’s image, and (3) notes that all of us, without exception, are sinners? Must we all applaud propaganda? Can’t we oppose bullying attempts from both sides?
Where does it end? Many homosexuals want peace, but chunks of America’s gay lobby seem devoted to the destruction of anyone who says anything negative about homosexual practice. Robertson’s comments could have been shrugged off as the hiccups of a charming old man from a vanishing lifestyle. As David Mathis on the Desiring God website noted, Duck Dynasty “is doing just as much to marginalize Christians as backwater as it is getting the name of Jesus on television—as if that was ever the tip of the spear for the Great Commission, anyway.”
That’s what makes this current clash one more foray onto what Matthew Arnold long ago called “a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” Duck Dynasty is no threat to the ascendant gay lobby and it’s no great benefit to evangelism either, so it’s easy to say Christians should duck this fight. But where does it end? With quoting unpopular parts of the Bible a cause for termination? With books doing that unable to be sold in stores or online? With imprisonment or worse?
With the support Robertson is receiving, I hope this particular episode will go down in history as a silly A&E mistake that others will not emulate. The greater danger is of government forcing out of business Christian adoption agencies, Christian bakers and photographers who oppose homosexuality, and many others. Many people will use language less crude than Phil Robertson’s, but he and everyone else should be free to say what the Bible says.
Harrison Ford’s character in Witness had the brilliant, desperate idea of forcing an armed and dangerous but not essentially homicidal man to decide how far he was willing to go. “Going to shoot him? The woman? Me? It’s over.” I hope Christians won’t go wild over this latest purge but will calmly yet resolutely oppose it. I’m praying that God will shed His grace on homosexuals and heterosexual adulterers and all of us.
Along with recommending Witness, I also recommend José María Gironella’s The Cypresses Believe in God, a great novel set in Spain of the 1930s, where those on the left and right fired each other from 1931 to 1936 and then fired at each other for three years of a terrible civil war. We need to avoid that in the United States. This is not a question of whether or not to defend Duck Dynasty. It’s a question of whether to defend liberty.